Promoting Agency + Creating Engagement in Student-Centered Spaces

I’ve written before that writing centers, particularly in secondary schools, tend to be difficult to quantify, as they don’t look at all like traditional learning environments: there’s no teacher delivering a lesson in front of a whiteboard or a screen, the “lesson plan,” which never involves worksheets, varies from day-to-day depending on the institutional ecology in which the writing center is situated, and, most of all, students have agency to determine how they will use their time and the space in any given context. In trust-poor industrial educational models, which tend to rely on Foucauldian surveillance and student self-regulation, students learn to cede their autonomy to an authority in a social negotiation that earns them rewards, including, often, being left alone by hovering adults, which was one of my goals as a high school student.

1024px-Panopticon.jpgWriting centers have to be trust-rich environments or they tend not to function very well, as they are constructed to be student-led and student-centered. However, when students move the trust-poor environments that dot most school spaces to the trust-rich environment of the writing center, there’s a kind of social anomie that sets in. This isn’t to say that writing centers become Lord of the Flies, but students often struggle with navigating an environment without the presence of an authority figure (or at least the threat of a presence); they lack a kind of self-intentionality that helps them manage their time, fulfill community expectations, and create the learning environment that they need. As Glen Cochrane contends in Hybrid Pedagogy, “Moving into, around, and back and forth between learning environments built by physical space and learning environments built by hidden ones and zeros requires transitioning.” Students who have tended to be under the thumb of trust-poor compliance regimes often have the most difficult transition into writing center. Indeed, here’s a sample of a recent reflection from a tutor:

Honestly I wish there was a little better one on one communication between the leaders or “teacher” of writing center and tutors, recently I’m not as sure what the expectation is of what we’re supposed to do when there are no students.

Given that I’m often teaching while students are tutoring, tutors are forced to navigate the Writing Center’s learning environment on their own; tutors need to project a world rather than wait for one to projected for them. We have instituted a detailed syllabus, a tiered peer-to-peer mentoring system, weekly reflections, and “circle time” based in the principles of restorative practices to mitigate some of our tutors’ disorientation, getting tutors to seize their agency really requires making some of the invisible rules, guidelines, and norms visible and sustained, intentional social-emotional confidence building. Indeed, Cochrane writers, “If educators want to take education beyond simply rebelling against a centralized past, the challenge then comes in helping learners realize the need for the ability to construe their own environment, and then helping learners acquire these skills.” In a dialogue hosted by the Eastern Michigan University Office of Campus and Community Writing and 826michigan earlier this month, a few Skyline tutors were able to engage in an interesting dialogue with other tutors about what it means to be a student-led, student-centered space and what their responsibilities are in that environment. This year, our tutor-leaders have taken on the responsibility of further creating a student-led, student-centered space, but helping other tutors acquire the skills to make and remake their space in the next step in a slow process to undo the very real behavioral modifications of centralized education, as evidenced by the portion of the tutor reflection shared above.

In teacher-centered spaces, all relationships are in the context of the adult; peer-to-peer relationships, to the extent they exist, are often performative: a teacher asks a question, a student responds, the teacher responds to the student before calling on someone else who responds back to the teacher. This looks interactive, but, really, the teacher retains the locus of control by not letting the conversation organically develop among students. Developing meaningful, authentic peer-to-peer relationships is one of the biggest challenges in student-centered spaces, and it can be a significant part of the anomie I discussed earlier, as there isn’t an authority figure ever-present to mitigate and manage. Indeed, new tutors often struggle with the balance between the personal, making the learning space relevant to them, and the communal, working toward a shared goal within a shared values framework. Cochrane writes, “The division between personal and community clarifies the decisions learners face between working towards their own learning goals and working under community standards towards a common goal—cooperation and collaboration, respectively.” In some sense, it’s easy for students to embrace the idea of the freedom of student-centered spaces, but it’s far more difficult to imbue them with a sense that there remains a learning community with shared values and expectations.  Teaching students how to be and the importance of being reflective practitioners to improve their own practice and improve our tutoring community is a good example of this challenge.  Tutors need to “self-coach” for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the writing center, but they aren’t often asked to this kind of work in other spaces.

DTTYlh2XcAElZvPIn a secondary school writing center, my role isn’t to back out completely, but, instead, to find ways to help build the frameworks and structures that can support a blend of personal autonomy with collective responsibility to meet the needs of our program and our school, especially since our goal to help close achievement and opportunity gaps are urgent and vital. Getting students to embrace personal autonomy while building a communal ethos is an imperfect, bumpy process, but it starts with us, as authority figures, putting trust in students to make important decisions, and it continues with us encouraging students to trust one another as they work to solve problems and achieve common ends, even when the conditions aren’t perfect or everything doesn’t go according to our best laid plans. As a leader and a coach, this has also meant ensuring that my tutor leaders take the long view, which can be difficult because the “life cycle” of tutors in our institution is only one or two years. One of the ways I encourage the long view is by reminding them that our mission and our vision exist already; we don’t have to reinvent fire each time we need to light the way. At our core, we know what we believe in, and we know why we believe in it—we’ve had the conversations, we’ve done the research, and we’ve aligned each belief to action-oriented values.

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How students navigate writing center—and what their social, emotional, personal, and academic outcomes are—will certainly vary based on any number of complex factors, but, ultimately, it is incumbent upon tutors to draw a map, explore, revise the map, and explore again. Like Cochrane writes, “The process of acting as your own center of learning demands assembly and maintenance— the onus is on the learner to create an ecology.” Getting students to believe that we want them to do this work, that they can do this work, and that they don’t need to do this work alone represent the significant work of educators and leaders in student-led, student-centered spaces; trying, failing, and trying again are the significant work of students in student-led, student-centered spaces. For both parties, this means working against entrenched systems of control and surveillance that have modified behavior toward compliance with punishment and reward.

This is hard work, but it’s the right work.

On Omission: “Ordinary Violence” + the Absence of LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculums

“Pushed around and kicked around, always a lonely boy,
You were the one that they’d talk about around town as they put you down”
–Bronski Beat, “Smalltown Boy”

Nine days ago, Matthew Shepard was interred in the National Cathedral as the Trump administration threatened to erase transgender people from legal existence (at least to start), a resounding and chilling act of state violence. Seven states have laws preventing an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in schools, which is a direct statement about whose identities—whose lives–matter. In the New Yorker, Masha Gessen wrote about the sustained effort necessary to make the ordinary violence of our society seem extraordinary:

So, maybe it’s not so crazy that I feel that there is something extraordinary in the internment of Matthew Shepard’s ashes in the National Cathedral. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, it’s not a sign of the times.

Indeed, the dominant narrative—“look at how far we’ve come”—seems to be more aspirational than an actual statement of fact.

Recent reports from GLESN show the continued inability (and sometimes unwillingness) of schools to adequately meet the safety, curricular, and learning needs of LGBTQ students. Indeed, progress toward safer schools has slowed, as students reporting incidents of verbal harassment from classmates and school staff has increased while positive representations of LGBTQ folks in school curriculums have decreased. When marginalized students are unable to see themselves in the curriculum, they begin to feel insecure and unsafe in our school and classrooms, which leads to achievement and opportunity gaps, truancy, and increased rates of bullying and school violence for LGBTQ students. While the merits of being a “data-informed” educator are clear and routinely preached as virtuous by our field’s thought leaders, I’ve heard endless excuses from colleagues for ignoring the blatant inequities for LGBTQ students in our schools—“the standards don’t allow me to add anything” (LGBTQ folks have provided contributions in every conceivable subject area, allowing you to be inclusive) or “we don’t have the resources” (use online resources to supplement those provided by your district) or “it doesn’t fit into our larger equity work” (we can and must serve our multiple equity needs simultaneously)—and these are immoral derelictions of our duties as public educators to teach everyone in our classrooms. The large-scale unwillingness to make LGBTQ folks and their histories visible in every classroom is erasure—an act of ordinary violence—that’s far too common to be considered extraordinary.

Inclusive-Curriculum-Helps-LGBTQ-Youth-GLSEN-Inforgraphic-PosterIn my Humanities course, we spend sustained time on learning about LGBTQ people and their histories, and, each year, there is pushback from even the most progressive students, parents, and colleagues who are disquieted and discomforted with the representations of queer and trans people in the course. Underlying the comments and criticisms in a hushed disgust, as if what’s been displayed in somehow vulgar or illicit, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, we spend time studying the origins of queer theory using some of Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele’s Queer: A Graphic History and thinking about how language can be changed to move away from binary oppositions before watching Paris is Burning and exploring the intersections of race, gender, class, and social geography. In a survey of my classes, only three students said they encountered any direct discussions about LGBTQ people or their identities prior to Humanities, and none of those representations were of queer or trans people of color. When the curriculum has been centered on you—valuing you, seeing you, and honoring your funds of knowledge—it can be a difficult, decentering experience to not see yourself at the center and have to confront certain parts of your own social identity, which I believe accounts for a great deal of the pushback. It might be hard to understand why you would care about those who are on the margins when you’re at the center, especially if you’re not regularly asked to do so. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in experiencing pushback and discomfort: in a Harris poll conducted earlier this year, 37 percent of people said they would feel uncomfortable knowing that their child received curriculum about LGBTQ histories and identities, and those are only those who admitted that they would be uncomfortable to a pollster. While many might argue that the Humanities curriculum is too much too soon, I’d argue that we don’t have time to waste, especially given the dearth of LGBTQ-inclusive instruction prior to Humanities. While the sins of omission on course syllabi and reading lists aren’t new and efforts to disrupt some canonical power is ongoing, it seems like there’s a kind of measured reticence to upending the straight, cisgender canon.

Many students, however, embrace the challenge of confronting their own identities, understanding the political implications and power of their gaze, and working to develop oppositional ways of looking at media that work against the dominant culture’s ways of seeing. Students are asked to take a scene or a stillshot from Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning in order to analyze it using our class texts and their lived experience as a basis for unpacking it, and the results were tremendous. Students could do written work, or they could produce videos. In both cases, students needed to make imaginative connections between theory and practice, History and history, and themselves and someone potentially unlike them that they’ve never met, something David Levi Strauss calls an “epiphany of the other.” For all of the disquiet and discomfort, these students were able to interrogate their positionality, challenge their subjectivity, and exhibit the highest imaginable level of social-emotional intelligence and critical thought. This felt disruptive to ordinary violence; their work was extraordinary and transformative.

Those who spoke at the interment of Matthew Shepard’s ashes frequently spoke about the way violence is normalized in LGBTQ communities; it’s part of the identity. Existing outside the dominant culture means preparing to be targeted by those who see your very existence as a mortal threat to their social order and its attendant power. Matthew Shepard’s dad spoke at the interment, saying: ““It is so important we now have a home for Matt…a home that is safe from haters.” Imagine if we could make school a place where our LGBTQ students—yes, our students—could see themselves, know themselves, and have their classmates know them beyond negative stereotypes, representations, and half-hearted inclusions into the curriculum. Imagine if every teacher in every subject found ways to represent the rich, diverse histories and identities of LGBTQ folks in their curriculum. Imagine if a school could be a home that’s safe from the haters.

That would be extraordinary.

Reflections from the 2018 National Day on Writing: Imagination, Empathy, Equity Highlight Why We Write

On Friday, October 19, 2018, my tutors from the Skyline Writing Center traveled to the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan to celebrate the National Day on Writing with Christine Modey’s tutors. The National Day on Writing, sponsored annually by NCTE, is a time to remember the reasons that we’ve been compelled to pick up a pen, open a computer, and share our thoughts.  I wrote in a recent post that while reading has been rescued from the doldrums of compliance by a committed group a big names in the field, like Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, writing has yet to undergo the same transformation in our schools, as students still mainly write for internal audiences, for standardized testing and college admissions ends, and for grades.  There’s very little to fire the imagination or stoke passion, and, by the end of high school, writing can even be something dreaded, particularly if the institutional ecology isn’t equipped to or compelled to raise student voices in any substantive way.

The student choice movement in reading is having huge impacts on students in my classroom and classrooms around the country: twitter chats are springing up about choice reading, teachers are sharing their successes daily on social media, and studies are being done to provide additional support for schools, administrators, teachers, and parents that are reluctant to embrace the power of getting students paired with the right book.  This is exceptional work, as building students’ literacy skills is the key to building equity in our schools and districts, but we often leave writing out of this vital discussion.  Getting students to reconnect with writing as fun–as a legitimate way to share feelings, expand thoughts, and create change–can have huge impacts on our goals to close achievement gaps by raising and amplifying student voices.  We can change the institutional ecologies around writing, slowly, but surely, and recuperate writing from its position as the thing you have to do rather than the thing you choose to do.  Practicing writing in volume–in all of the disciplines–is a great way to help students get better, particularly if they can see the impact of their words.

The opening “icebreaker” sessions were designed to get students thinking critically, working collaboratively, and engaging creatively with writing and with one another.  Students rotated through three stations: a station where students completed the phrase “I write because…” on paper circles that would be displayed in our Writing Center and shared their responses with their group, a station where students completed an “Exquisite Corpse” activity that encouraged students to play with language, and a game where objects were tossed around a circle in a pattern to model the many academic, social, and emotional demands of peer tutoring and the importance of teamwork and communication in an often-stressful environment.  This year, the Skyline Writing Center welcomed 30 new tutors, our largest number since we opened, and with limited time during the school day for community building, having genuine opportunities for students to connect, build trust, and share vulnerability in a contextually meaningful way was vital for the social-emotional growth of our tutors and the edification of tutor-to-tutor relationships foundational to our continued success.

The next part of the day would center on getting students to consider how they can use their voices as everyday advocates for educational equity at Skyline, in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, in our region, and even as part of large national networks.  Students were able to write letters to local, regional, and national officials suggesting reforms to elements of their school or schools more generally that need to be shifted so that all students have equal opportunities to achieve, students could make videos about times when they saw writing make a social change, and they were able to create art that will be displayed in our Writing Center to help other students see the importance of literacy and writing, especially as we try to narrow persistent achievement gaps. 

Edifying trust and sharing vulnerability earlier in the day with our “icebreakers” was vital, as students worked in small groups to share ideas about writing and social change, which required them to be open about their beliefs, values, triumphs, and tribulations and to listen to and be empathetic to experiences potentially far different from their own.  Our Writing Center, which contains multitudes of diversity, requires students to engage with one another on socially cellular levels to have “epiphanies of other,” which activities like this encourage.

Our final activity of the day was an ekphrastic writing competition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), which opened early to accommodate our group.  Ekphrastic writing has been shown to be instructive for students learning to be empathetic, which was part of our day’s intent.  Tutors had the run of the Modern Contemporary gallery, and were given about 20 minutes to compose a poem based on a piece of art they select.  Students were put in groups to select one poem to move to the final round, which was judged by Raymond McDaniel, the world-famous poet.  Students not only had to take perspectives when telling stories based on the art, but they were treated to the perspectives of other students, compelling them to engage in stories and experiences that aren’t their own.  This was an exciting creative experience for students–it was fun, public, and sharable–and it was an important lesson in the importance of stories to our fundamental humanity.

The Urgency of Imagination: What #WhyIWrite Means Now

If you look in the student-blaming outposts on Twitter, you’ll find literally millions of “kids these days” posts about how entitled, lazy kids are responsible for an epidemic of plagiarism without a moment of reflection or introspection from the tweeter themselves (I won’t link them here, but you can find them by searching Twitter): what was the assessment, and did students find it relevant and meaningful? Did students master the necessary skills, such as paraphrasing, prior to the assessment being given? If a student is only writing for a grade or if they feel like they lack important skills, they might turn places we don’t want them to turn. It’s hard for teachers to hear that plagiarism is rarely a student’s first resort, and, often, a symptom of a larger issue with the assessment or their pedagogy. This isn’t to say that there aren’t students who might cut corners, but defaulting to that conclusion requires a fundamental belief in some of the deficit-oriented thinking that might be causing some of the issues in the first place.

At a recent professional development session, I heard a teacher say: “Grades are the only way to get students to improve their writing.” Despite this being anathema to my own beliefs and practices, I took a moment to think through this because, on its face, there might be some truth here; students will often compliantly do what we ask for a better score, and they might learn some skills in that kind of revision process. My worry with this formulation (and others like it) is that the skill students are really learning is how to “do school;” good soldiers get rewarded. I’m also concerned that if a critical mass of a teaching staff believes that grades move writers, they probably believe that scores compel readers, too. There’s a great ILA article, written by Colette Coleman, on the way that students get pulled toward teacher interpretations of a text rather than pushed to develop their own. The article implies that teacher assessment might have something to do with this phenomenon:

When a teacher conveys that students can get to an author’s meaning only through her or his hints and leading questions, the underlying message is that students can’t navigate the text on their own.

My sense is this happens more than we like to admit, and my sense is that this makes students largely insecure about their own abilities to make interpretations and the veracity of their interpretations when they do make them. If that’s the case, can we really be shocked or surprised when a student hits SparkNotes or Shmoop to validate their thinking by finding the “right” answer? Barthes may have argued that the author was dead, but, often, the author—and their adjacent Authority—lives on through our work in the classroom, especially our assessments, which reward alignment with our ideas and agreement with the literary establishment.

Once the Author is gone, the claim to “decipher” a text becomes quite useless. To give an Author to a text is to impose upon that text a stop clause, to furnish it with a final signification, to close the writing. This conception perfectly suits criticism, which can then take as its major task the discovery of the Author (or his hypostases: society, history, the psyche, freedom) beneath the work: once the Author is discovered, the text is “explained:’ the critic has conquered; hence it is scarcely surprising not only that, historically, the reign of the Author should also have been that of the Critic, but that criticism (even “new criticism”) should be overthrown along with the Author.

Not only is this inherently inequitable, as much of the canon and its attendant literary criticism are written from dominant perspectives that lack what bell hooks terms an “oppositional gaze,” but it facilitates a fatalistic sense for students that the interesting, engaging work is done. All that’s left is the parroting and the grade, and why spend time on something that’s a fait accompli?   It’s all over but the scribing.

All of this being said, I believe that what motivates students to write is relevance, choice, and opportunities to fire their imaginations, but it seems like assessments that ask students to do this kind of work are rare, at least in my educational circles. Recently, Ann Blakeslee and Cathy Fleischer from Eastern Michigan University visited to talk with students about our community-facing partnership, and students were asked to reflect about their interest and their questions about the work. Their questions and concerns largely centered around nervousness on doing the work “correctly;” they were really interested in being “right.” This was surprising, and, if I’m being honest, a little discouraging; our Family Fun Nights are all about writing along with students, actively engaging them in storytelling and sharing, and, most of all, helping kids and their families find the fun in writing (as they often find in reading). We never correct, edit, or otherwise comment on someone’s writing at one of these events, and there’s really no way to be “right.” You can be authentic or you can be inauthentic, but that doesn’t have much to do with being “right.” Problematically, however, tutors, most of whom are new, couldn’t really conceive of what this sort of event looked like and how they could promote fun and imagination in writing. Some even said after that they struggled to understand how fun and play could be a force for literacy building, and I have to think that it’s partially because that’s so far away from their current lived experience. What’s writing without grades and competition and assignments and compliance? Without these motivations, participation seems almost pointless: what are we doing this for again? One of the purposes of Family Fun Nights is to help K-8 kids keep their imaginations engaged longer and stave off writing as a purely academic exercise, but there’s some worry on my end on whether my tutors are fundamentally equipped, at least in terms of mindset, to do this work.  In truth, I think our Family Fun Nights do more for my students than we do for the K-8 students.  Indeed, my students need to recuperate their will to write from the grips of a compliance-based machine that has made writing about learning management systems, an interpretive guessing game whose answers are only a Google search away.

I’m excited about our Writing Center’s upcoming visit to the Sweetland Center for Writing, as we’re going to celebrate the National Day on Writing with activities for our tutors that reimagine and rekindle why we write with our college-level colleagues. My sincere hope is that students can remember what drew them to writing in the first place, which I’m willing to wager wasn’t anything that’s drawing them there now. If we can remember why we write, we have a good chance to help others do the same. There won’t be anything to Google, their won’t be any interpretation to mirror, and there won’t be any grades assigned at our event, but I would argue what’s at stake is more important—and more urgent—than any of that. I’m hoping students see it that way, too.

 

Redefining “Rigor:” Trust, Choice + Inclusion

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As the director of a secondary school writing center, I’m used to the skeptical questions about the rigor of our program from colleagues, from students outside of the writing center, and even from college admissions officers who question the value and the difficulty of our work despite having six years of quantitative and qualitative data that suggests we’re having a real-deal impact on narrowing existing achievement gaps in our school and preventing ones from opening.  Much of the skepticism about the rigor of a class called “Writing Center” stems from the way it calls into question traditional educational models that rely on direct instruction; there’s no teacher giving lectures, and there aren’t worksheets to do, but, instead, students go through a training process that engages them in thinking about how to use their role as a peer to honor their classmates’ literacies and funds of knowledge, promote growth-oriented thinking that moves away from education’s infamous deficit models, build relationships with classmates through writing by sharing their own vulnerability, do community-facing work with local universities and organizations that promote K-8 literacy, where achievement gaps begin, and engage in meaningful reflection about themselves as tutors using their own experiences with writing and substantive writing center pedagogy.  This is all while trying to navigate complex peer-to-peer relationships, peer-to-teacher relationships over writing, peer-to-writing relationships, and structural and institutional inequities within our community in order to make lasting, positive change.  This work, while learner-centered and learner-led, seems legitimately rigorous to me even without an Advanced Placement designation or its standardized test at the end; students are using the collective knowledges and resources in an effort to solve pressing real-world, real-time educational issues impacting their friends, their school, and their community.

Narrow definitions of what constitutes rigor in schools extend beyond the Writing Center.  Notions of rigor are frequently discussed when we discussing issues of making space for more choice reading in classes, as there’s an intractable belief that students will scam the system, taking the easy way out.  Indeed, this belief is so pervasive that a recent conversation with a colleague revealed that they were reticent to share their amazing choice reading practices because of negative optics; it simply doesn’t seem hard enough.  However, we know that choice in the classroom promotes high levels of student engagement, and high levels of student engagement encourage students to persist through learning obstacles by thinking metacognitively to find solutions.  We also know that students have an exceptional degree of pride when finishing tasks that they’ve chosen, making them deeply invested in both the process and the product.  The belief that students will somehow scam a system in which they have choice is not only unhelpfully distrustful, but it also further ensconces the idea that we need to force students to learn in spite of their unwillingness to do so.  This hasn’t been my experience; students are deeply passionate and want to expand their literacies in areas that are relevant and meaningful to them.

When given the opportunities to make choices about their learning and their educational process, there’s a palpable energy.  If that feels too anecdotal, then there’s a proverbial boatload of research that there’s a direct relationship between literacy growth and reading volume: an hour of independent reading a day gives students access to 4.3 million new words each year.  Additionally, Judy Willis finds that:

“The highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and ‘aha’ moments are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of ‘exuberant discovery,’ where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.”

There are hosts of examples like this one highlighting the ways in which independent reading is both purposeful and rigorous when implemented with fidelity to researched practices.

Here’s the rub: when we anoint ourselves as keepers of rigor, beholden to traditional academic models of what that word means, my fear is that we’re creating more walls than doors, especially for students already on the outside looking in. All students deserve access to lessons that meaningfully challenges them within their zone of proximal development, but rigor doesn’t have to have an AP designation, take the form of standardized test preparation, or be completely teacher-centered. These practices measure exceptionality by exception; the gatekeepers are effective enough without legions of allies. Instead, rigor should—even must—engage our sense of curiosity, the imagination of solving relevant, real-world issues, and the deep metacognition that comes from reflection. As Peter Rorabaugh, Sean Michael Morris, and Jesse Stommel write in “Beyond Rigor:”

“We must move past our traditional definition of rigorous academic work, and recognize that a learning experience or a pedagogical methodology can be both playful and also have the qualities of the best academic work, if not the reagents of traditional rigor.”

Like school itself, traditional notions of rigor work for a very small subset of folks whose funds of knowledge and literacies tend to be highly valued. These funds of knowledge and literacies generally tend to be those possessed by white, middle-and-upper class, cishet males, which sends strong messages of exclusion to those who don’t share those literacies or the values, beliefs, and ideals inherent in them. As Rorabaugh, Morris, and Stommel argue, we need to shift our definition of rigor away from reading really long books that are assessed with really hard multiple-choice questions to finding ways to get students to use their funds of knowledge to imagine, explore, and maybe most of all, create. This new notion of rigor requires rethinking power asymmetry in school and empowering learners to use their agency to seek their rigor and relevance in forms and content central to their interests and assets using inquiry, play, and metacognitive reflection, and we have to trust our students—all of our students—to do the learning that they want to do. It’s here where we can begin measure exceptionality by inclusion rather than exclusion.